It’s not about the Animals

(This is a contribution to the Great Transitions Initiative’s discussion – this month, on Eileen Crist’s essay on animals.)

What we have done to animals is a crime with a motive that has nothing to do with animals. It has to do with what we have done to each other. 

The Dreaded Comparison makes clear that our hate towards animals is projected as another facet of our hate for each other and of ourselves. Slavery over humans (whether ‘soft’ or chattel slavery) is an extension of dehumanization which is our justification for treating animals as outside the ambit of ethics. Hobbes dictum that Homo homini lupus est, that we treat each other like wolves, is actually a projection, as wolves for the most part treat each other quite well, as family. (Here is a summary of this fascinating myth and how postwar human projection onto wolves created this misunderstanding). It is the denied dependencies on animals, as with slaves, which makes it so hard for us to quit the addiction of exploitation. 

Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch likewise illustrates the racial and sexed dimensions of property ownership which started with the conceit that only certain humans could be entrusted to own land, documenting the move from guiding herds of animals to keeping them pent up in ranches. By debilitating the animals we sought for food, clothes, or other resources, we became debilitated ourselves, but did not notice, because we perceived the benefits to far outweigh the costs. That calculus, if it was ever valid, scaled up is quickly revealing itself to be hollow; the definition of unsustainability. 

When we try to control all animal life (humans control 96-7% of all mammal biomass), we become as enslaved as the animals we enslave. This, of course, is the essence of Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic. Our dependency destroys us ultimately, because without the constant input and management of our food sources, of ecosystems, etc – which we can never do with might and technology as elegantly as nature crowdsourced by thousands and millions of organisms can do together – our spinning plates, our factories, our production, ceases. As the Little Prince once was told about his rose, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry). This is simply too much responsibility for any one species, and we have delayed reckoning with that responsibility by trying to control ever more.

As Eileen Crist points out in her excellent essay, our relationship with animals is one of “structural violence, meaning institutionalized and established forms of violence disavowed as being violent or kept hidden from view.” Yet, unfortunately but unsurprisingly (and even necessarily) such structural violence is by no means confined to animals. Paul Farmer’s Power as Pathology shows how this equally works intraspecifically. Having recently ready Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael for the first time well into my adulthood, I was struck at how Taker culture’s obsession with intervening in every situation fits with the tensions driving us to move from an industrial civilization to a planetary one. Aligning system with lifeworld, and not the other way around, as is being practiced, requires the square circle of carnism (as Melanie Joy calls it): not just undoing the century of horrors of CAFOs, medical testing, and the like, but also the drive to take away from animals their own agency. As Dayton Martindale writes, “Farming also removes the animal’s choice in the matter.” Even pets are often smothered under the ‘love’ of their human codependents. 25% of all fish goes to feeding cats, not humans. Many pets suffer debilitating diseases from overbreeding to meet our single-metric aesthetics or fancies. Golden Retrievers, for instance, are victims of hip dysplasia because people are obsessed with ‘races’ of animals and ‘pure’ breeds. 

Crist gets it right emphasizing that transforming the human animal is the key to letting animals become animals again, instead of the contorted creatures we have forced them to become to fit our factories, insecurities, and concepts. Rather than therapy pets, we would do well to rewild our world and come to meet those charismatic animals which attract us with friendship, not ownership. Alloanimals (as we call nonhuman animals in biosemiotics, to emphasize our animality) owe us nothing. Due to millennia of mistreatment, we owe them everything. Finding atonement through a thousands virtuous interventions, from eating them only rarely, and allowing ourselves to be eaten by them without reprisal, allows us to approach a great transition. 

Richard Falk in his response discussed his own addiction to eating dead animals. This western perspective is common, because it is predicated on a relationship of entitlement with our kin, that of carnism. Indigenous people everywhere rarely have such preferences, but see eating and being eaten as part of the web of life. If we wish to eat animals, we should not flinch from being eaten by them as well. Which means maintaining adequate habitat, on the scale of Half Earth (EO Wilson’s concept of leaving half of the earth for wildlife, which borrows heavily on Arne Naess’ original statement that humans ought to meet our needs and live on 1/3 of the earth, have a second 1/3 for hiking and visiting for spiritual and recreational pilgrimages, and leave the final 1/3 for the rest of uncivilized nature, reserved like Mount Olympus for the more-than-human world). 

The ecofeminist philosopher Val Plumwood was mauled by a crocodile while canoeing in Kakadu National Park, Australia, and had to craw two miles bleeding profusely to save her life; yet she harbored not a shred of malice towards the animal, understanding perfectly well that this was not an aberrant action on the part of the crocodile. She understood that in this instance she was simply prey. It was a fair trade for all the animals she had eaten.

Plumwood’s way teaches us what being in relationship with other animals means: a give and take. Most of all, learning to live and love with our fellow mammals means letting go of controlling them. De-domesticating ourselves as we rewild the earth, creating space for animals to direct their own lives as they best see fit.

New review of Food and Medicine: A Biosemiotic Perspective

A new review article out in the journal of BiosemioticsAnd the Flesh in Between: Towards a Health Semiotics,” by Devon Schiller takes Jonathan Hope and my edited volume as an opportunity to review the history of medical semiotics and health semiotics. Our book, Food and Medicine: A Biosemiotic Perspective (2021), deals with the question of how food becomes glossed as food and medicine becomes seen, used, and healing as medicine, according to the different bodies of living beings. As medicine is the birthplace of semiotics, with diagnosis (being able to decide between different possible diseases, and then having some idea of how to treat it – assuming you have diagnosed correctly), it is fitting that semiotics returns to these questions.

Schiller’s article contextualizes our book and the chapters by different authors therein according to a Hippocratic context, in a semio-historical approach much deeper than our book focuses on. While we discuss briefly the medical origins of semiotics and I in particular rely on Eugen Baer’s foundational Medical Semiotics, Schiller forcefully argues the explicit links between applied semiotics (especially to the realms of public health and medicine) and semioethics, a topic I have also written on previously, with Morten Tønnessen and Jonathan Beever, in the Zeitschrift für Semiotik.

Schiller makes extensive citation of contemporary semioticians to reveal it’s history on these topics:

To establish the connection between contemporary biological semiotics and classical medical semiotics, Italian semiotician Susan Petrilli states, “implies a great responsibility for the semiotician,” because doing so goes beyond theoretical reason into “practical reason,” thereby conferring upon the study of signs “a commitment that is of an ethical nature [because it] concerns the health of life

That the health of life be the primary font of semiotics reveals the biosemiotic character of all semiotics, as well as sets up the stage for Jakob von Üexkull’s Umwelt concept applied to disease. Such a perspective

…recognizes how diseases do not “exist in rebus Naturae,” that is, in things of nature, and are neither “Platonic realities” nor “universals ante rem,” that is, timeless entities independent from the signs used to represent them, just out there, waiting to be discovered. Rather… [we can] consider[] “disease-concepts” to be constructed through “general references” as a matter of “mental convenience”

The implications of this are enormous for medical classification, taxonomies, as well as bearing epidemiological consequences and tarrying with the terrain theory of health and disease.

In other words – the disease always spills over the confines of our semiotic Umwelt, or the sphere of our reference. Disease exists not just within the confines of our perceptible, measurable, knowledge; but often what we are able to perceive are mere symptoms of the real disease, existing for the most part out of the realm of normal apperception (yet affecting us just the same).

This is a major topic that could be fleshed out, in Schiller’s words, much more, constituting a substantial research program. Not just for physical disorders, but also mental ones (psycho-social-emotional ones). The biopsychosocial model of disease arrives closer at understanding the implications of this diagnosis of health and disease as overspilling our Umwelt into a just as real Umgebung a/effecting us just as totally, touching on the point that it is impossible to derive, measure, or pin down exactly the causation of disease in terms of sequence or contravening factors through taking only a biological, or psychological, or social approach; but indeed to get anywhere near understanding, diagnosing, and treating the full onslaught of the disease requires attending to the gestalt of all of these factors put together. Such attention begins to subtend on the event horizon of our Umwelt, letting us peer into the many causes of disease.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Billionaire Bunkers

Image all these resources were actually used to make the world a better place. This company would be out of business. To apocalypse, no Oppidum. Self-fulfilling prophecy to the max.

“They are places of serenity and absolute safety for owners and their families. We are privileged to offer our clients the highest levels of service, creating beautiful places that will protect them and their legacy for generations to come,” says Jakub Zamrazil, founder and CEO of Oppidum, in a press statement.

https://robbreport.com/shelter/homes-for-sale/oppidum-lhermitage-luxury-bunkers-1234747467/

Let’s deconstruct this. The use of the modifier “absolute” shows that Jakub absolutely does not believe in the claim. there are some faultlines that he has to defend.

Second, protecting them and their legacy for generations to come? Hasn’t this corporation ever heard of the Pyramids? Every single one was vulnerable to tomb robbers. Surely, in an age of hackers having equal skills to any security tech, all of these compounds will not only be hackable, but infiltratable by other means as well.

It’s as if Anti-Trust never existed

We have a handful of transnational corporation more powerful than almost every single government in the world. Amazon, Google, Facebook (I refuse to call them by their wannabe name), not to mention Vanguard and Blackrock, the ginormous hedge funds that control most of the real estate in key markets.

Now, Amazon is buying iRobot, which makes the Roomba. Ron Knox’s thread on this is important. Amazon doesn’t just want the vacuum, they want the data. They want to know how big your house is, where your furniture is, and to spy on you even more than they already do. Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, probably know more about you than most authoritarian governments know about their citizens. That’s why there are 1000s of backroom deals between tech companies, governments, militaries, and other big brother networks. It’s all one big mafia, or as Lewis Mumford called it, Megamachine. It’s impossible to know where one ends and the other begins, they’re all so dependent on one another.

Amazon also wants to kill competition. Their profile is to buy a leading product and then undercut the market. “It can predatorily price its competition out of the market, gaining a monopoly in the process. It’s the Amazon way.”

Jeff Bezos has said that Amazon wants to buy its way to dominance. By snatching up Roomba and pairing it with its vast monopoly power fueled by its Prime system, it would do just that.

https://twitter.com/ronmknox/status/1555563768796647425

Privacy and anti-trust go hand-in-hand. That we even have companies as big as Amazon shows a total failure of government and law. We need to do what the US government did to Big Ma Bell back in the 20th century, and split it up into many different companies. Otherwise, we’re living in a less and less competitive world. For a bunch of capitalists who say they like competition, few of our politicians actually act like it.

But this is only the prelude. The main act is Amazon’s acquisition of One Medical, the competition to the extremely affordable Costplus Drugs started by Mark Cuban.

Amazon will likely with One Medical attempt to create a monopoly, by short term hemorrhaging money by bringing down prices below market price, until their competition is dead. Then, they’ll jack up the prices in order to gouge us. Hell, it’s the Pharma Bro way.

Public Citizen tells us why allowing this deal is a horrible idea:

  1. Amazon may gain an unfair competitive advantage in the health care market. There is good reason to fear that Amazon will leverage its dominant role in the online retail market to gain unfair advantage in health care delivery, for example, through bundling Amazon Prime and One Medical memberships.
     
  2. Amazon may misuse patients’ health data. The personal medical data that One Medical routinely accumulates would be of enormous value to a marketing company such as Amazon, which will have an undeniable and inherent interest in trying to gain access to that most personal of data. Moreover, there are good reasons to worry that Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protections will be inadequate to prevent Amazon from vacuuming up One Medical patients’ data.
     
  3. The merger may exacerbate health care inequalities. Amazon-One Medical is likely to disproportionately serve healthier and wealthier patients. This will leave other health care providers with sicker and less profitable patients – raising overall costs, and worsening health care disparities already experienced by vulnerable populations.
     
  4. The merger could worsen Medicare overbilling. Amazon, through its acquisition of One Medical, would likely build out a primary care network across the country that inflates Medicare payments as part of its business model.
     
  5. The merger may undermine the quality of health care. Amazon’s online business model could deeply erode the quality of primary health care – including preventative, acute, and chronic disease management care. While some virtual visits can enhance consumer access, overly aggressive substitution of in-person medical encounters with virtual visits can work directly against the proper provision for needed in-person care. Relatedly, Amazon’s demand for robot-like efficiency among its employees may well conflict with the imperatives of providing quality health care. And finally…
     
  6. The merger may undermine worker rights at One Medical. Amazon has a well-documented history of hostility to workers exercising their right to form unions. Similarly, One Medical workers have reported being rushed, pressured, stretched out, and unable to deliver the quality of care they believe patients require. Amazon seems likely to worsen these issues.

It makes no sense to give the world’s most powerful company another monopoly on drugs. Drugs themselves have eclipsed healthcare, and steals money that should be going to public health. This is bottom-feeder bonanza at its worst. Instead of fixing health problems at the societal level by creating a world more conducive to health, instead, we’re addicting people to drugs they need to save their live – at a price. Stop paying (for whatever reason – job loss, tragedy, etc) and you’re dead. This is not healthcare – this is a death sentence.

Cigarette Litter as Environmental Pollution

At Erasmus University Rotterdam, there appears to be a gap in the official rule about smoking on campus. This environmental pollution from littered butts is an indicator of both the environmental and health costs of smoking. Right behind the building where I work, I found thousands of cigarette butts two years after all universities in the Netherlands were supposed to have gone smokefree.

So what’s going on? Is this just a matter of poor enforcement? Or is this a matter of insufficient norm change? Our taxes on cigarettes too low? Are antitobacco countermarketing messages simply absent or not enough?

Why are smoking rates in the Netherlands still so high even after some recent bold policy innovations? Which branches of the government are still complacent and protecting the tobacco industry allowing tens of thousands of Dutch to die every year from smoking- related illnesses?

We all know that cigarettes serve no social function and people only smoke (as a way of self-medicating) because of slick marketing in our movies and other media by the industry. And obviously it seems as if the environmental consequences of smoking have also failed to reach young people on this salient point. Here countermarketing could be a successful tactic as has been used in other places like California, where the smoking incidence is less than 8%. Tax cigarettes additionally in order to denormalize them with slick countermarketing. Let people know about the environmental and health costs of cigarettes.

Also, ban the butt – filters provide absolutely no health benefits, but were part of the ‘filter fraud’ created in the 1950s to placate people’s worries that cigarettes were causing cancer. They are a cosmetic accoutrement, nothing else – and yet, because they are made of cellulose acetate, they don’t break down, but persist in our environments, hurting birds, fish, children and other animals who eat them.

Downstream trashiness

If you’ve been keeping up with my work, I’m into upstream solutions. Here’s an example from The Ocean Cleanup which is a very necessary, but very downstream solution.

While I applaud such actions, why do these get so much airplay (and funding)? While getting rid of fossil fuel non-biodegradable plastics is not proportionally advanced as the priority it is?

The Interceptor Trashfence in Guatemala’s Rio Motagua Basin, home to what may be world’s most polluting river, did not stop this particular trash tsunami.

But this is just one of tens of thousands of such polluted waterways, and instead of putting trash fences across every river, let’s put a trash fence on our hands, on our eyes, our mouths, our noses, our grocery stores. Geofence that stuff, making it impossible to sell plastic, like Kenya did with plastic bags. It’s been working. Supply side solutions work. Anything else is just a pipedream.

End of line solutions are feel good, and inefficient. They trick us into believing band aid symptoms are enough, ignoring treatment of the root causes and sources of gross pollutants. The communities upstream, because they are not held accountable, exculpated and exonerated for their indulgences by lo-tek environmental cleaning, will continue the culture of ‘out of sight out of mind’ never really reducing the pollutant loads.

A different tactic would be to cease direct (drainage) connections to waterways, by decentralizing, distributing and applying source control storm water management approaches. By creating EPR – extended producer responsibility, this would propel manufacturers to create their own circular economies for materials and supply chains. When every piece of trash has a maker – and therefore owner, every manufacturer must take care of its trash, or pay steep fines, steep enough to put them out of business if they opt to cut corners.


the machine takes out the tenderest part of feeling

Pat McCabe, Weyakpa Najin Win (Woman Stands Shining) of the Diné (Navajo) Nation describes the difference between lighting a fire by hand, versus with a standard plastic or metal lighter: “the machine takes out the tenderest part of feeling.” It’s not as if nothing is lost – it makes it harder to connect with the yearning for the thing that occurs. The miracle of the product – the creative spark. When we mechanize, technologize, automate, or routinize the creative process – which is not just originality, but production and reproduction – we lose the depth of longing. We lose the densities of prayer. The threads of the hologram.

Why I don’t buy carbon offsets

From Eric Holthaus’s newsblog interview with Ketan Joshi in The Phoenix:

What I’d love to see is a major company, instead of buying offsets and greenwashing us, is to be up front and unambiguous and say: “We are not going to fully reduce our emissions right away, but we’re going to cut them as much as we can. We added all our emissions up, and here they are, here’s the numbers. On top of that, we’re going to fund Indigenous people to protect this piece of land.”

The Pantheon

A collection of some of my favorite humans who have ever enlarged our imagination:

(in no particular order, last date updated 5 March 2022)

Alexander F. Skutch – ornithologist and naturalist

Hannah Arendt – chronicler of the human condition

Kalevi Kull – theoretical biologist/biosemiotician

Jakob von Uexküll – father of theoretical biology

Montaigne – pragmatist before his time

Richard Doyle – ecodelic philosopher

Susanna Hecht – terra preta documenter and forest theorizer

Peter Linebaugh – archivist of the commons

Lynn Margulis – symbiogenesis

Howard Thurman – mentor to both MLK and Gandhi

Jacques Ellul – futurist and systems thinker (critical esp. of technology)

Alexander Weygers – Dutch American deep ecologist and inventor of the UFO

Emil M. Cioran – eccentric poet philosopher

Martín Prechtel – wise storyteller of the heart and honey

Climate Change (Finally) Enters the Therapy Room (for the Rich, who can afford Therapy)

(Background NYTimes Article for Reference)

As I’ve always said, the NYT is 5-10 years behind the times (their feedback loop doesn’t extend beyond New Yorkers making 5M+). This has been a subject psychologists have been dealing with for at least 20 years in the west, and non-western versions of psychologists have probably been dealing with since colonialism.

There are probably lots of really great resilience practices grounded in local traditions and meaning-making that could be of use for us in western declension as we confront the shadow side of ‘civilization.’ For example, SF native Ethan Watters has an excellent book called Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche that gives 4 detailed case studies of the DSM messing with local grief and trauma rituals.  

Point being: Krishnamurti once said “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Perhaps our collective illness – physical and mental – is not something that can be individually “cured” as long as we still are creating the problem (continued pollution and disrespect for people and planet). Maybe our mental and physical health as now a species (finally reaching the imperial core) will continue to degenerate as we double-down on ignorance (see Proctor’s agnotology). And fighting to remain exceptional to our zeitgeist will just take more resources and energy away from those who need it most (after all, the poor and oppressed “deserve” “therapy” far more than those with so-called first world problems). In the words of David Abram in The Spell of the Sensuous, as long as we don’t confront our root unsustainability and disregard for the complexities of life and our biosphere, we’re just shifting disease around (there, not here) rather than actually regenerating or healing the cause. Climate grief is a symptom, not the core problem.

Thus, perhaps what we need most is a collective therapy – a political and economic and social therapy – recognizing that in a biopsychosocial model of disease, we’ve yet again, predictably, neglected the social context which is cannibalizing us all slowly.

Fractal Instrumentalism

When we farm fish, do we think that, perhaps, we’re being farmed as well? If not? Why not?

When we bind life to fulfilling one function: delivering to us what we think we need; do we ponder whether our life also is bound to what someone else desires?

When we subordinate another, do we think that in this same process we are also being subordinated?

These are not idle thoughts, but the fruits of different ontologies. If we believed, for instance, in the Kantian Categorical Imperative – popularized as the ‘do unto others as they would do unto you’ Golden Rule – perhaps more advanced cultures, such as various indigenous peoples and cultures that still venerate wisdom, sophia, might understand it thusly:

It is not just wrong to make another your instrument (your tool) because it takes away their autonomy and agency and cheapens their life and does not develop their capacities not enable the universe to experience more flourishing which could lead to morphic resonance of higher echelons of joy for all – it is because when we involve ourselves in instrumentalism, we become tools.

Hegel basically said as much in his Master-Slave dialectic in Phenomenology of Spirit. When we outsource tasks, we also lose our ability to do things that might again become necessary. By commanding, we also become dependent. It’s like the modern white collar worker who can make you an excel spreadsheet but can’t change his own tires. That’s why when we outsource the growing of our food, we become slaves (or addicted, or susceptible) to the machinations of oligopolists providing our food. They can do anything they want, and unless we’re willing to seriously challenge their power, we’re helpless.

But the thing about instrumentalism which is so rich, is that in a relational ontology/cosmology, you are what you eat eats, to quote Michael Pollan. It’s not just that you do something and get away with it or not according to cosmic laws, but that depending on how you care for and treat yourself and the world, the laws governing reality (for you) themselves change. And when enough people make certain decisions, to enslave and instrumentalize, the planetary oversoul, or noösphere itself reflects the shared practices, calls in attractor energies, and signal boosts them.

This is part of why the relativists and constructivists are on to something. Reality does morph and transform according to how we relate. But that doesn’t mean that you can just do whatever you want with impunity. To the contrary, it becomes very clear that just the opposite conclusion is warranted. The fabric of the responsive universe (Meeting the Universe Halfway, thanks Karen Barad) folds to amplify and feedback our impulse. We have creative direction to alter – but not dominate – the relationship of the circuits of fate and possibility. So, it really matters if our heart is kind, our mind is unperturbed, and our body is feeling at peace, so that we can radiate in our thoughts, emotions, actions, intentions – extensions of these frequencies, rather than ones of rancor, hate, resentment, ressentiment, shame, guilt, regret, not-being-good-enough, imposter syndrome, etc.

In conventional reality, none of this really matters. The rules of the game are given by either nature or culture (natural law or positive law) in a fixed manner. They don’t change. So all you have to do is to learn them and stick with them. And then once you get good and getting consistent results, you can learn where you can cut corners. And as you cut more corners and cheat a little bit, you can notice where in your life the ripple effects of karma from such actions supersede on your mission, or not. Are all cheats just boons, unqualified goods? Or, does such ‘cleverness’ kick you in the but, destroy your sleep, keep nagging worry and anxiety eroding your quality of life? Or worse: do the thinks that you care about start crumbling around you, and you don’t know how to cope, so you just double down on extractive behavior?

These are things we should ponder, and get clear from the outset. This should be the first question we ask of each other before we shake hands.

Pyramid Consciousness on Instagram: ""If we are to have ...

The push and pull of ecocide

Planned Obsolescence is just the verso side of perpetuating fossil fuels. GM’s buying up and then sitting on patents for electric cars in the 1960s is but an example of how the fossil fuel industrial complex has retarded energy evolution.

The fossil fuel industry and its frontgroups are the real luddites. They have put incredible, superhuman effort into slowing the eventual economic and efficiency take over of renewable power.

It is precisely the dystopia of kumbaya hippies without energy or the modern conveniences of ‘civilization’ that is one of the boogiemen the fossil fuel industrial complex conjures up to scare us into thinking that we still need them. Like in an abusive relationship, we would be nowhere without them, and by cutting off our access to others, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But the fossil fuel industry are the real luddites. They prevent innovation on less ecocidal energy sources; they gaslight us into thinking there are no real alternatives (ahem, gas hobbs are lame, not cool as big oil pays it’s influencers to tell us); and they fear change.

Any change in energy policy that favors innovation, big oil fears, like a superstitious pearl-clutcher. All they know is their fossil business. They have sunken costs. They don’t want to innovate, even if they are bringing about the end of the world. It is the globalization and monarchy of the most pathologized.

If FF brass were really leaders, they would say, “game on! This is capitalism, it’s a free market – we can do this transition thing. We’ve got tons of capital, and can roll with the times. Let the best capitalist win.”

Instead, the fossil fuel companies are so busy puppeteering the rules of the game so that they still get spoon fed their subsidies and lock out every other innovation (to the extent possible: nothing can resist an idea whose time has come – plus wind and solar now being cheaper per watt hour than coal, oil, or gas).

While planned obsolescence makes it so that for non-fungible goods (clothes, furniture, heck, even houses, but electronic goods are where this practice really shines) they are as crappy as possible, you’re stuck in monopolies and closed non-interoperable formats (hello Apple), and they break or become useless quick enough that you’ll addictively buy another one, corporate ludditism throws the wrench at competition.

The myths of free markets, or corporate transnationals somehow loving capitalism is sheer bullocks. These guys are like mafiosi: they thrive off of oligopolies and violently defend their turf. It’s not about the best products; it’s about preventing better products from reaching consumers.

Rather than competition, the biggies spend a good part of their time, energy, and coin rigging the rules and smashing competition so that they can be the devilish totalitarian rulers of their particular slice of the consumer universe, and more often than not (Google, Apple, Amazon, Disney, Facebook) like well-trained colonialists, are not content until they are drilling into every other aspect of our reality, too.

Corporate domination is the name of the game. One company to rule them all. Will it be Tesla? Will it be Amazon? Who knows? Let’s get some popcorn and watch as Goliath vs Goliath goes as it. Corporate hegemony is the new Monday night football. But with consequences worse than concussions.

This push/pull of corporate hegemony means that nonfungibles become fungible and fungibles (like a particular energy source) become nonfungible. A shortage? No switching allowed! We’ll metabolize our oil into plastic, if that’s what it takes for you to continue buying! Profits up! Stiff upper lip! No exceptions!

So we are dealt austerity on both ends, coming and going. The stuff we’re supposed to buy in locked-in and fast flowing (and breaking). Freedom from such rackets, however, is fiercely defended against. Gaslighting us that we’re addicted, when better alternatives exist, is an elementary powerplay; one that evidently our governments are too dense or greedy to refrain from going along with.

Buckminster Fuller said it best: instead of battling these dinosaurs, we’ve got to create a better alternative. And then vigilantly not let grifters pretend to sell knock-offs of the real thing. Having a strong YES to eco-innovation (socially-understood) and a strong NO to those rentier-seekers aiming to pawn off fakes for the real thing to siphon off business to their old hegemonies, is what will bring us deliverance.

Capitalist Hegemony: The Political Challenge of Alter ...
Illustration credit: Cristina Bernazzani

The disinformation playbook: how industry manipulates the science-policy process—and how to restore scientific integrity

My new paper co-authored with the excellent scientists at the Union for Concerned Scientists “The disinformation playbook: how industry manipulates the science-policy process—and how to restore scientific integrity” appears in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

The article is a summary of how many industries work in similar patterns to undermine democracy and subvert science and the rule of law in order to deflect changing their own unsustainable behavior.

The article is useful to get an overview of how industrial epidemics intervene in the science and policy process, eroding public trust in science.

Fig. 1

Beewashing

In an Earth Day issue of Time magazine (April 26/ May3 2021), we have an advertisement from the RJ Reynolds (or Reynolds American) tobacco company “Natural” American Spirits proclaiming “in more ways than one, bees are worthy of our love.” Yes, we ought to love the bees, and smoke cigarettes made by BAT (the owner of Reynolds), the #2 largest tobacco company on earth. This is what we call “bee washing,” and companies use it because it works.

“Climate is Everything.” Smoke a cigarette, says Time.
NAS “maintains their own hive sanctuaries” and “is dedicated to preserving pollinators and their natural habitats” as they clearcut land and hire slave labor to grow their tobacco. *golfclap*

In my recently published paper “Colony Collapse and the Global Swarm to save the Bees: Sacred Relations with Bees in Film and Literature” I discuss how such instances of beewashing work, and why we are attracted to these pollinators, and why creating (and then abusing) a spiritual connection with bees comes so naturally.

“Beewashing” is using “save the bees” pleas to sell more product.

It works.

It resonates with people because for some odd reason, just like early Christian monks organized their monastery on the beehive, we know deep down that the fate of the bees and our fates are intertwined. As Einstein quipped, if bees disappear from the earth, humanity soon follows.

My paper looks beyond the rational reasons for why humans seem to be so captivated by bees – why we are willing to act for them, despite their puny size and relatively difficult to anthropomorphize characteristics (charismatic microfauna, they have been called).

I look at the documentary #QueenoftheSun and novel #FifthSacredThing by Starhawk as depictions of human-bee interspecies relationships based on love & reciprocity as indicative of the spiritual undergirding driving our defense of bees, and suggest such goodwill travels to other contexts. I conclude that connecting with people’s more theological and cosmological orientations is a successful way to motivate falling in love with the earth again, and attending to those aspects of the world deemed expendable in meeting our needs through industrial means. Such care and connection is not without it’s own illusions and perils, but remains an inextricable thread to solving our global climate crisis of meaning as well as material mattering.

Organisms and Agency

Responding to an article in The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jun/01/wuhan-coronavirus-lab-leak-covid-virus-origins-china

the medical ethnobotanist and philosopher Stephen Buhner had the following astute observations (posted in Facebook):

There’s a particularly good article in today’s Guardian on covid-19. I think it well worth a read. I have, of course, received scores of emails from people (with varying degrees of insistence) about the origin of the coronavirus. And, as many people know, I have been warning about the emergence of resistant and emerging microbes for over twenty years now. They are inevitable and we are unprepared for them (mostly because the medical industry is corrupt, its relationship with government oversight a joke; it is all about the money, not our health). The coronavirus origin is not and never has been an issue for me, just a matter of minor intellectual interest. Most people seem to believe that if the virus emerged as the result of a lab leak it makes some sort of essential difference. It doesn’t. It is still here, it is still a problem, it still has to be dealt with. I think that the reason that so many people are focused on the lab leak possibility is that then at least we will have someone to blame rather than having to deal with Nature inexplicably doing stuff to us. Oddly enough, the insistence on the lab leak comes out of an underlying belief that Nature can be controlled (it can’t) and we would be safe (we aren’t). In other words, IF the scientists had left well enough alone, none of this would have happened. Or, if they had practiced better safety protocols it would not have happened. The thing is, pandemics are inevitable. There are simply too many of us, there is too much pressure on natural systems, and ecosystems are beginning to fail. This always allows pathogen emergence. In fact it is a form of protection from ecosystem overload. We are just an animal, like all the others. If we put too much pressure on ecological systems we will pay for it. It is not personal, just as gravity is not personal if we drop a rock on our toe. It is just the way things work here. Should scientists be messing about with genetically altering organisms on this planet? No, they should not. Should they be messing about with pandemic capable pathogens? No they should not. It is part of the hubris of the rationalists and their scientific priests, the scientists (which are themselves part of the most successful of the protestant sects: science). I have been writing about the problems among the scientific and medical community for decades. The fact is that they are just people, no more important or valuable than a plumber or a waitress. As long as they are socially placed on a pedestal, considered better and more valuable human beings because of their degrees or job, we are in trouble. BECAUSE . . . they are people and possess all the limitations and stupidities that all of us do. Human error is inevitable. Always. Still, a lot of people believe that if it came from a lab, somehow that makes things different. Again, it really doesn’t. You have to consider the possibility that instead of us deciding to alter the organisms in the lab that the organisms decided to be altered in a human lab and simply used scientists who believe in human control to do it for them. This, of course insults core rationalist beliefs but there is far more going on here than rationalists can accept. They prefer simple reductionism and the foolish belief that humans are superior to all other life forms on this planet. (Haven’t they seen the movie? Everyone else has.) Earth is not as insentient as the rationalists and monotheists believe. Nor are our companion species. As my writings have shown (esp in Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm, Healing Lyme, and the antibiotic and antiviral books) bacteria are some of the most intelligent species on this planet. So are viruses. They are not as stupid as most researchers believe them to be — and have convinced most people they are. In any event, here is the link to the article (the links in the article are well worth reading as well):

New Paper: Plant Philosophy and Interpretation

I’m happy that a paper I first drafted in 2015 made it to the light of day in Environmental Values this week: “Plant Philosophy and Interpretation: Making Sense of Contemporary Plant Intelligence Debates.” This paper grew out of an Austrian Science Foundation grant I had as a postdoc in Vienna in 2015 which I presented at the International Society of Environmental Ethics in Kiel, Germany, and finally during the corona lockdown I had time to finish it. Paco Calvo generously offered comments before I submitted it.

The thrust of the paper is that plant neurobiology aims to borrow the nomenclature of animal (including human) biology in order to boost the moral standing of plants. By showing analogs between animal and plant hormones and processes (analogs to brains in the root subapex, as Darwin originally postulated), plants can be treated as moral patients. However, this approach fails to acknowledge the difference of plants, and value that difference. In attempting to use animal biology language for plants, however well intentioned by plant neurobiologists, speaking in the master’s language fails to do plants justice, and reaffirms the human- and animal-centric moral evaluative position. Instead, I offer a (non-utilitarian) pluralistic account of value that allows recognition of plant intelligence without requiring that intelligence to measure up against mammal intelligence.

Here’s the abstract: Plant biologists widely accept plants demonstrate capacities for intelligence. However, they disagree over the interpretive, ethical and nomenclatural questions arising from these findings: how to frame the issue and how to signify the implications. Through the trope of ‘plant neurobiology’ describing plant root systems as analogous to animal brains and nervous systems, plant intelligence is mobilised to raise the status of plants. In doing so, however, plant neurobiology accepts an anthropocentric moral extensionist framework requiring plants to anthropomorphically meet animal standards to be deserving of moral respect. I argue this strategy is misguided because moral extensionism is an erroneous ontological foundation for ethics.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3197/096327121X16141642287755

Why I define environmental injustice as undeserved entitlement

Some entitlements are deserved: added respect and deference for those who have dedicated their lives to the common good; accommodation for the elderly, pregnant women, children, and those who need it; respect for those who have sacrificed their own good and interests for those of (especially underserved) others.

We have all sorts of entitlements: ambassadors don’t have to be responsible for infractions and misdemeanors in most countries; the rich buy lawyers that can help exculpate them from crimes ranging from pedophilia rings (Epstein) to murder (O.J. Simpson), to genocide and medical cruelty (Trump’s immigrant death camps and medical experiments).

Somehow, we willy-nilly accept these sorts of entitlements – by virtue of them actually occurring, the fact that these monsters have gotten away with it. Meanwhile, our society locks up indigenous protestors protecting the water sources for millions of people, Black children get shot to death by police in America, and in the Netherlands, people with ‘foreign’ sounding names get pegged for child benefit fraud (this very claim the result of racist fraud).

So, what does this have to do with undeserved entitlement? And environmental (in)justice?

If historically advantaged minorities create two-tiered legal and moral systems preventing others from getting away with the crimes they enjoy with impunity, this gives them undeserved entitlements. Undeserved, because these entitlements are predicated on their wealth, power, and authority derived from colonialism, violence, and harming others. If you agree as I do, that no just society could have billionaires, just as no just society could have dictators because even if they are benevolent or philanthropic ones, at any given time they could easily ‘flip’ and arbitrarily exercise power harming others according to their will and caprice, then clearly these forms of power and authority lead to undeserved entitlements.

Just as we view as noxious mafias exercising their own form of illegitimate extrajudicial power, the judicial and extrajudicial powers of economic elites too should be reframed as abuses of illegitimate power. Illegitimate because economic hoarding has precisely zero correlation with largess, beneficence, magnanimity, or any virtue, for that matter.

After 20 years of meditating on the subject, I’ve noticed one thing: health inequalities and environmental destruction have a single source: in exclusion. Gated communities and sacrifice zones are predicated on opting out of a shared fate. The idea of expendables, that these people will have to fend for themselves while we do what we can to protect ours, leads to further eroding the social and ecological commons we all rely on for survival and meaning-making. As long as we can throw others under the bus to get ahead, those with the means to do so and get away with it will continue to do so. The moment we agree that such corrupt and cruel action will not be permitted under any circumstances and punished by stripping offenders of their means to commit such crimes, our ecological and social commons will regenerate and improve, making things better for all — and especially the historically most discriminated against.

If it weren’t for the separation of pollution into the categories of those subject to it and those profiting off it, pollution wouldn’t exist. That’s why I strongly advocate that anyone making money off of contaminating processes should be those most exposed to the contamination. In such a scenario, we’d see how long pollution would continue.

$9 billion lost a day due to a stuck ship = stupid economics

“Cargo vessel stuck in Suez Canal drives up shipping losses estimating $9 billion per day” – CBS’ headline reads

Global commodity markets can fail spectacularly.

One little tie up like a stuck boat, and $9 billion is lost a day.

What people don’t realize is that this $9 billion is the same money that poor and rich people worldwide destroy their ecosystems, communities, and themselves for every day in order to survive or get ‘ahead.’

We need a better system that isn’t a system.

Egalitarianism explained in a simple YouTube video

As part of my procrastination today from writing my book, I stumbled upon this video by the YouTube science communicator Veritasium.

What’s so lovely about the video is how clearly it explains reams of philosophical debates between liberals and libertarians in twelve minutes, and comes to a more cogent conclusion than most of them.

Basically, situated epistemologies require those most advantageously situated to help other have better luck. Combining social psychology and behavioral economics, this video clarifies through an experimental model how luck always plays some role.

The myth of the self-made man is one of the most destructive ones of our society, and acts as cover for those well-off to not value others who have not been so lucky. The punchline of the entire video is that we have benefited from intergenerational largess, and so those who have benefited the most have a duty to enlarge the ability for others to get recognition, validation, and resources through creating opportunities for other to enlarge the pool of luck – horizontally, not vertically.

Thus, policy implications include:

  1. Getting rid of the possibility for billionaires (using a combination of taxation, demurrage (negative interest rates), taxes on trading financial assets, etc)
  2. Regenerating the welfare state (including a universal basic income)
  3. Social norm changes: quit venerating billionaires or other wealth hoarders as false idols
  4. Not let people like Bill Gates or Elon Musk make public health or climate policy decisions — as these are far out of their expertise — only because they are rich or influencers
  5. Quit using philanthropy as an ersatz for a functioning social democracy.
  6. Return society to science, rather than let the irrationalities of greed eclipse scientific progress, insights, and applications

 

Review of The Good Hand excerpt

I just read the New York Times excerpt of Michael Patrick F. Smith’s (names don’t get more American, or Irish–his middle, middle name is Flanigan) book The Good Hand: A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown. What struck me first was how successful this guy is in the liberal darling — rough outsider: he’s story is about working on an oil rig — while still being pro-climate policy. He’s exactly the darling liberals have been waiting to come forward and lavish their praise on, to show that they are right and conservatives are wrong. But Smith aims to short-circuit this narrative with zingers: “Like most Americans I know, I have both strong progressive and conservative values.” This statement is immediately arresting because it is true. The Tweedledee-Tweedledum liberal conservative polarity is simply bunk. Any person, if they look into their own complexities realizes that the ideological camps we’re told we have to camp out in, never really represent our full values.

In reading the reader comments, the reason for the NYT (and Viking press) lauding and promoting this book are obvious, in addition to those described above. What is at stake is the definition of sustainable. Smith says that his conservative rural buddies have lower-carbon impacts than the liberal city slickers. This was the line most attacked by NYT readers. But what is at stake is something greater: liberals want an energy regime that sustains the unsustainable lifestyles of urbanites, tuning out to where there food, energy, water, and infrastructure come from. Cities are the classic reverse-Robin Hood: they rob from the peripheries and funnel resources to the centers. Most cities grow little food, and import almost all their stuff. Meanwhile, growing and sourcing your own food, and knowing your local ecology is something that you have to learn by default living rurally. You have to budget your ecology, live within your limits. Sure, you might burn a lot of wood during winter, but hell, its romantic — and local (if you’re not some rich ski person who buys or imports their wood).

So, the question is: does sustainability mean living off the land, more locally, more simply? Or does it mean technologically-driven and dependent futures that strive to be less impactful? The conceit of the first is that this is available for all — it’s not. We have to drastically reduce the world population to live sustainably like pioneers. The fallacy of the second is that we can have our cake and eat it too: that sustainability doesn’t require drastically re-engineering everything about our habits and lives. We can just surf on clean energy into the singularity. Both views are flawed, and will not get us to avoid collapse; but also have their merits. We must live more simply (without cars) but also in greater connection to the land. Slowing down the pace and scope of life will be necessary. We can choose it, or it will choose us. Global coordination and innovation, the type that cities provide, however, is also crucial for our future. The trick is, as Smith suggests, combining the virtues of both while owning up to their respective dark sides. Are conservatives ready for that? Are liberals?

Preemptive versus post hoc: pandemic decision-making and measuring economic trade-offs

A million tourists or new luxury hotels may sound appealing, he added, “but is that sustainable? Is that going to help us in the long run?”

The Washington Post‘s expose today 18 Dec 2020 on the few island nations that are still 100% COVID-19-free discusses the economic meltdown that has occurred as tourism has collapsed, especially as many of these island nations have imposed what the Post calls “preemptive lockdown” and “most drastic anti-coronavirus travel ban in the world.”

The Post insinuates that this is a bad thing — that had Micronesia been a bit more permissive and welcoming of the pandemic, they would have had less devastating economic losses. But perhaps this framing is backwards. Instead, what it reveals is the unsustainability of exogenously-sustained economies. That islands have become completely dependent on the global business model of travel and tourism. Long term, this is fragile, instead of anti-fragile (in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s description). John Rawls in his Theory of Justice even devotes an entire section on resource sovereignty and not needing external imports to sustain oneself (an implicit ecological argument — for my analysis on this elsewhere, see “The Threshold Problem in Intergenerational Justice“). In a sense, this is the opposite of Kant’s notion of Cosmopolitan Citizenship in Perpetual Peace, where trading makes us all so reliant on one another, that peace reigns because fighting each other destabilizes our economic and metabolic dependencies.

But instead of focusing on retooling these island nation’s ability to provide for themselves, to go back to their permaculture roots, they are given a false gambit: open up and woo biological misfortune, or stay closed and woo economic disaster. This is a great teaching moment.

Biological integrity is a thing. It has been swept under the rug for the last century, as elites, and a trickle down of upper middle class jet setters have drummed up an entirely just-in-time global logistics network where most of the food we eat and resources we use come from far, far away. It’s nice to eat bananas and avocados — I’ll admit. But would I give them (and many other things up) for a healthier world? You betcha.

If the choice is between being a potato-eater and being able to work and hug, versus getting exotic fruits in a closed-down quarantined life, I’ll choose the former any time.

Reviews for Plants in Science Fiction

Last year an edited volume on speculative vegetation that I contributed a chapter to on Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume came out with the University of Wales press in the New Dimensions in Science Fiction series (with a beautiful cover, I might add).

Since then, some nice reviews have surfaced, for example:

Locus listed the volume at the top of their 2020 non-fiction recommendation list: https://locusmag.com/2021/02/2020-locus-recommended-reading-list/ 

Other accolades include:

“Science fiction teaches us to ‘be-with others better.’ This is the core argument of Plants in Science Fiction, captured in one of its chapters and suffused throughout. Readers will come away with a profound and challenging understanding of what it means to be human, as well as a deep appreciation for the critical function of science fiction in a threatened world.”  — Eric Otto, Florida Gulf Coast University

Plants in Science Fiction demonstrates that science fiction and ecocriticism have much to say to each other. By considering ‘speculative vegetation,’ of course, we learn much about our own lives in the present moment on Earth.’ — Scott Slovic, Editor-in-Chief, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

Corona and Climate – Lunch Lecture @ Studium Generale and Erasmus Medical School 18 Nov 2020

Register here: https://www.eur.nl/en/events/corona-and-climate-lunch-lecture-2020-11-18

Lunch lecture on the relationship between climate and viruses by environmental philosopher and public health scientist Yogi Hale Hendlin.

The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on climate is contradictory, to say the least: besides positive effects like reduction of CO2 emissions from fewer airplanes in the sky and cars on roads, the negative effects include “ghost flights” and tens of millions of littered face masks daily. Corona and climate-change both are global “wicked” problems without current solutions. With the idea of ‘never waste a good crisis’ in the back of our heads, we investigate what lessons we can learn from eco-philosophy?

Environmental philosopher and public health scientist Yogi Hale Hendlin will discuss the relationship between climate and viruses during this webinar and argues for a drastic change in behavior instead of treating symptoms. Is our relationship to flora and fauna not partly to blame for the current crisis? Which insights from climate research offer a perspective for the corona crisis, and vice versa? And how these two pandemics – one infectious, the other chronic – intertwined?

Dr. Yogi Hale Hendlin is an assistant professor in the Erasmus School of Philosophy and core member of the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative at Erasmus University Rotterdam. At the University of California, San Francisco, Hendlin is a research associate in the Environmental Health Initiative, working on the Chemical Industry Documents and Fossil Fuel Industry Documents. Hendlin has published in journals such as BMJ, Plos Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine, MMWR and AJPH.